Navajo Nation extends closure order through April
GALLUP — Officials on the Navajo Nation have extended the closure of government offices and services through April, to slow the spread of the coronavirus on the reservation.
With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continuing to climb and five confirmed deaths related to the disease, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, Vice President Myron Lizer and Attorney General Doreen McPaul signed the executive order to lengthen the closure from April 3 to April 26.
"One confirmed death is one way too many but five here on the Navajo Nation our relatives who have gone home to the creator. This is a serious public health emergency and that's the reason why we are giving out these orders," Nez said after announcing the new order at a town hall meeting on Facebook Live.
The order continues restrictions issued in early March but allows for essential employees to report to work sites.
It instructs all tribal branches, divisions, departments, programs, offices, non-certified chapters, enterprises and casinos to comply with directives, instructions and policies about COVID-19 issued by the Navajo Health Command Operations Center.
It requires all divisions, departments, programs and offices under the executive branch and non-certified chapters, tribal enterprises and casinos to follow the direction of the public health emergency orders, which limit travel by residents and establish a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. each day.
Byron Shorty, spokesman for the legislative branch, said Speaker Seth Damon will extend closure orders for offices under the legislative branch.
The judicial branch has an administrative order for the operation of courts, which went into effect on March 25.
"Our doors are locked but we're still offering essential services with limited staff to protect the public and our employees," said Karen Francis, spokeswoman for the judicial branch.
She added that Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne continues to evaluate the circumstances to ensure continued operations of essential services in the future.
Education board continues school closures
The Navajo Nation Board of Education decided on March 31 to close all schools located on the tribal land for the rest of the school year.
"We did approve the closures of all schools on Navajo," board president Priscilla Manuelito said.
The board resolution directs closing all grant schools, private schools, charter schools, public schools, schools with 638 federal contracts, institutions of higher education and schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education.
The closure extends to Navajo Head Start, the Family and Child Education program, early childhood programs and child care development fund programs.
There was a consensus among board members for the closure due to health risks for COVID-19, Manuelito said.
"We're always trying to keep the best interest, which is the safety of our children, at the foremost of our decision making," she said.
She said the action does not mean education ends and the Department of Diné Education will reach out to schools to find out plans for teaching students for the remaining school year and about breakfast and lunch services for students.
The board will be updated on those resources during its next meeting on April 2, she said.
COVID-19 cases continue to climb
Officials reported the number of confirmed cases for COVID-19 has reached 148, and the number of confirmed deaths is five as of March 30.
President Nez explained during the town hall meeting that officials are only reporting cases for individuals who live within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.
"We're focusing on just the residents of the Navajo Nation. It could also mean these are non-Navajo citizens that are residents," he said.
Nez added personnel are working on an online tool to show general locations that have cases, in response to questions from the public about where cases are being reported.
"There are privacy laws. Until those privacy laws get changed, we have to abide by that and plus there's a lot of investigations going on to verify positive cases, including the deaths," he said.
Tribal officials and health care personnel warned the tribe has yet to reach a peak in cases.
On March 29, the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 9 delivered equipment and supplies to the Chinle Community Center in Chinle, Arizona, where a medical station was set up to help with the response effort, according to a press release from Nez's office.
The Arizona National Guard is working with the Tuba City Regional Health Care Center in Tuba City, Arizona to provide relief to medical personnel, the release states.
The Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter is setting up tent facilities at the fairgrounds in Tuba City to use as medical stations, the release states.
In addition, the tribe has requested Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to start coordination efforts for medical stations in New Mexico.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at email@example.com.
Support local journalism with a digital subscription to The Daily Times.